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Father Of British Guantanamo Prisoner Discusses Son’s Imprisonment, Calls For Full Legal Rights

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We speak with Azmat Begg whose son Moazzam is one of four remaining British detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Like other Guantanamo prisoners, for two years Moazzam has been denied contact with his family, access to a lawyer, and the right to a hearing to determine his legal status. [includes transcript]

Five British detainees were released from Guantanamo Bay this week after being held for two years without charge. Upon their return to the UK, four of the five men were arrested and taken to a London police station. They are expected to face days of police questioning. Under the provisions of the Terrorism Act the men can be held for up to 14 days without charge. The fifth British detainee was released has accused the U.S. of injustice and the UK of complicity in his detention.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld defended the decision to release the five prisoners saying, “We got what we needed out of this crowd of five people, let’s move them along!”

For over two years more than 650 people have been detained in a legal black hole at Guantanamo. They have been denied contact with their families, access to a lawyer, and the right to a hearing to determine their legal status.

Four British prisoners remain in Guantanamo Bay and are likely to be tried by a United States military court.

Families and lawyers of the four prisoners have insisted throughout their two-year-long detention that the men are innocent and were mistakenly caught up in the U.S. war on terror.

The Daily Telegraph this week reported that the Bush administration alleged the four remaining British men trained in terrorist camps and learned skills such as bomb-making. Lawyers for the men yesterday described the claims as “rubbish” and “tendentious” and expressed fears that they might have invented confessions under the psychological pressure of two years’ detention without charge or trial and in the mistaken belief they might face the death penalty.

  • Azmat Begg, his son Moazzam is one of four British who remain in custody at Guantanamo Bay.
  • Rachel Meeropol, attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights. She is the grand daughter of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg who were executed on June 19, 1953.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! “The War and Peace Report.” I’m Amy Goodman. On the line with us from Britain is Terry Waite, the former hostage held for five years in Lebanon, returned last month to Lebanon, and has just come to the United States this weekend to speak out for the Guantanamo detainees against their detention without trial. Also, as part of that group, Azmat Begg was there. His son Moazzam is one of four men from Britain who remain in custody at Guantanamo. We welcome you as well to Democracy Now! And Rachel Meeropol, an attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights. Azmat Begg, where was your son captured?

AZMAT BEGG: He was captured from Islamabad, which is the capital of Pakistan, where he was staying with his wife and children. Very small children, starting from the age of 1 to 4 or 5. He had three children at that time.

AMY GOODMAN: And where was he taken? When was this?

AZMAT BEGG: It was about two years now, over two years now. He was taken from his house in front of his daughter and his wife. Two American soldiers, assisted by two Pakistani soldiers, pulled him out, bundled him up, and put him into the trunk of the car, and took him away. And he rang me up from the trunk of the car, possibly he had a mobile, and he told me, in the middle of the night here in England, that, “Daddy, I have been arrested.” I said, “What for?” It was a very [inaudible] sort of noise; I couldn’t believe. He said, “I’ve been arrested, Daddy.” I said, “Why?” He said, “I don’t know. And they are taking me somewhere, which I do not know. Please take care of my wife and children who are” at so and so address in Islamabad.

AMY GOODMAN: Where were you?

AZMAT BEGG: I was in England. I was in England, half asleep.

AMY GOODMAN: So he was taken to Guantanamo. Have you had-

AZMAT BEGG: No. They didn’t take him straight away to Guantanamo. They took him to Afghanistan and kept [him] in a provisional kind of house called a “Mantua cell.” And then they transferred him to another place in Afghanistan, which is known as Bagram Air Base, where he was badly treated, very badly treated.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you know?

AZMAT BEGG: Because I received letters. Through the Red Cross. The Red Cross people came down to me to deliver the letters. [I was] having correspondence with him through the Red Cross all the time. And then when a little bit of noise raised in the U.K., they transferred him to Guantanamo Bay. He was badly treated. He was deprived of proper food. He was deprived of natural light: sun, moon, or anything. He says, “I haven’t seen sun, moon, or sky for the last whole one year, except for two minutes. I’m being treated like an animal. They pull me and push me into cages, and that’s how I am here now. At times I don’t get food and my clothes are torn. They don’t care, and I don’t know whom to go to.”

AMY GOODMAN: Have you spoken to him?


AMY GOODMAN: He writes you letters?

AZMAT BEGG: He wrote his letters when he was in Kandahar, in Bagram, and he also wrote letters from Guantanamo Bay when he was transferred.

AMY GOODMAN: He was a law student?

AZMAT BEGG: Yes, he was a law student, and he then settled, and he opened a shop and got married, had three kids.

AMY GOODMAN: Right now, some men from Britain have been released; others have not. Your son has not been released. On what grounds do they say they’re keeping him?

AZMAT BEGG: Well, they haven’t given any grounds at all until now, but rumors are coming from different sources. One of the papers from Washington, D.C., called “Newsweek” or something like that, that reported that Moazzam was making a plane, an unmanned plane, in Afghanistan which could have flown from there and gone straight away into the Bush White House. And that was amazing. I don’t know any scientist who can do that sort of thing. My son was simply a law student. So, this sort of allegation-another allegation came when I [inaudible] from Parliament. Then another rumor came that Moazzam was making another plane to destroy the Parliament. So, these sort of allegations-a common man can think that they’re a very stupid sort of allegations.

AMY GOODMAN: Looking at the comment that Vice President Dick Cheney made for the men who were released. He said, defending the decision to release the five prisoners, quote, “We got what we needed out of this crowd of five people. Let’s move them along,” releasing them to Britain. Rachel Meeropol, you are an attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights who works with the Guantanamo detainees. Your response to that, and also, what does it mean to be an attorney that works with the Guantanamo detainees?

RACHEL MEEROPOL: Well, of course it’s very difficult to work with the Guantanamo detainees since we haven’t actually had any access to the detainees themselves, and that’s something we’re very concerned about, as well as the conditions under which they’re being held. As far as their recent release, of course, we’re happy that some individuals are being released. However, that’s only the beginning of fixing this situation. Of course, it’s been over two years that those individuals were being held, and the idea that the U.S. government can simply take people and hold them in a legal black hole, interrogate them, and then release them, with no process, and no review, no accountability whatsoever, is an idea that is foreign to international and domestic law. It’s extremely unprecedented. And, of course, we’re very concerned about it at the Center.

AMY GOODMAN: And that comment of Donald Rumsfeld?

RACHEL MEEROPOL: Well, I mean, I think it speaks for itself. The idea that they, after two years of interrogation and, really, who knows what, have finished with these men and are now simply releasing them-I think it’s despicable.

AMY GOODMAN: Terry Waite, if you are still on the line, your response to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s comment, “We got what we needed, let’s move them along”:

TERRY WAITE: Well, I think it is a very alarming comment to be made by a person in such a responsible position. Because we do have international law and domestic laws, precisely there to protect our freedom, the freedom of all of us. And if we are to take the situation as it is, then that means that anybody, anywhere, can be picked up, detained indefinitely, without due process, and dealt with behind closed doors and then released when the State has finished with them. That is flatly contrary to all that we hold dear and all that the American Constitution holds dear. So, it simply confirms what I said earlier, that Guantanamo Bay is simply one large interrogation camp.

AMY GOODMAN: What are you calling for, Azmat Begg?

TERRY WAITE: —[continuing] I think it is very difficult now for the administration to get itself out of the situation. First of all, I think it’s fairly clear, as far as this country is concerned, that any evidence obtained during the last two years would be inadmissible in a British court of law. That is the first thing. Secondly, where does that leave us? It leaves the remaining men with the distinct possibility of facing a military tribunal. And that, in itself, we would consider-I would consider-that to be totally inadequate, where the president, in his capacity as head of the Armed Services, becomes both prosecutor-accuser, prosecutor, and executioner for some. So it seems. That is a most detrimental policy. So, how the administration extracts itself from this position, I do not know. And I am surprised, myself, that as we have seen-as we are seeing-such a major contravention of international human rights law, there hasn’t been stronger international protest.

AMY GOODMAN: Azmat Begg, what are you calling for, for your son right now? -Let me ask Azmat Begg, the father of Moazzam Begg, who is still in Guantanamo.

AZMAT BEGG: I’m asking a very simple thing, which is, according to the law, within the frame of law, which is just that Moazzam should be transferred straight away to the U.K. Let him see his wife, his children, and keep him behind the bars, that doesn’t matter. Have him medically examined, physically. He should be examined properly by an independent board. And if he is fit, he should be straight away brought to the court. If he has done something wrong, he should be punished accordingly. But if he has not done anything wrong, he shouldn’t be there for a second.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to end with the comments of Vanessa Redgrave. We played the first part of her interview yesterday. The Oscar-winning actor had come to the United States with Azmat Begg, with her brother Corin Redgrave; they established the Guantanamo Bay Human Rights Commission. She came to our studio Friday, before this weekend’s visits to Washington, and talked about the Guantanamo detainees. Vanessa Redgrave.

AMY GOODMAN: -So, what exactly are you calling for right now? The release to the home countries?

VANESSA REDGRAVE: Due process. Due process, those two mysterious words mean “your legal rights under international law and under national law”-therefore, British law, International law, the European Convention on Human Rights, if they’re American citizens, under American law. Now the Supreme Court is going to decide, isn’t it? Does the President-not only this president-does any president, an executive, have the right to issue decrees as President Bush did on November the Thirteenth, 2001, which create a structure outside the law of the United states? Does it have that right? And the Supreme Court will be deciding this in April. And so, amicus curiae, friends of the court briefs, have poured into the Supreme Court from Britain. From the finest minds, legal minds, in Britain, I’m talking about legal people, has been the sentiments of people who are ashamed. And I know that the American people feel the same way, those that know the situation.


VANESSA REDGRAVE: But you can’t have-you know, Britain is complying with or agreeing to this word “extraordinary rendition.” Do you know what that means? “Extraordinary rendition” means that basically all the governments in Africa, all the governments in the Middle East, and all governments in Asia, of countries which-of those countries where torture is practiced, and I may say Russia is one, that the State Department practices torture, and seven Russian detainees have been sent back to Russia where they will die within months because the intelligence services practice torture there. “Extraordinary rendition” means that citizens are being sent by the United States, with the compliance of Britain, to countries where torture is practiced, without people knowing, and are being tortured.

AMY GOODMAN: Vanessa Redgrave, speaking in our studio last week before the trip to Washington. Terry Waite, since you were held for five years, almost all of that time in solitary confinement, maybe you can tell us the kind of effect it had on you as we talk, for example, about Moazzam Begg.

TERRY WAITE: I think I was very fortunate, myself, because I was a hostage negotiator, and I always reckoned with the fact that sometime I might well run into danger and be captured. Whilst nothing can prepare you properly for that, if it’s in the back of the mind, you do, in a sense, prepare yourself, and the way to face it, of course, is to maintain a strong inner spirit. But I know some hostages who were captured and for whom it came as an entire surprise, suffered very severe mental strain. And certainly the families were put into an extraordinarily difficult position, and, themselves faced considerable mental strain. I would go so far as to say that that type of strain on the family amounts to what could be described as mental torture. It is totally unfair, and I’m sure Mr. Begg will not mind my saying that when I was with him, and with one or two of the other families in Washington over the weekend, there were points in the discussion when they simply couldn’t continue. They broke down, indicating the type of strain they’re under.

AMY GOODMAN: On that note, I want to thank you very much for being with us, Terry Waite, as well as Azmat Begg, father of Moazzam Begg, who has been in Guantanamo for-who has been detained for-two years. That does it for the show tonight in New york. There will be further discussion. I’m Amy Goodman. Thank you for joining us.

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